What does it take for you to manage stressors during big life changes?
Change is stressful and hard for most people. Big changes like moving, having another baby, getting into new routines when work schedules are changing, parents traveling for work, parental separation/divorce, changing caregivers, losing a family member, or any other big change, will be stressful for children and parents alike! As the parent with a developed frontal lobe, you have a sophisticated set of problem-solving skills and coping strategies that are put to the test when big life changes happen.
Changes can also can leave children with a sense of unease.
Changes can also can leave children with a sense of unease, as the predictability of routine is something from which most children benefit. Your child does not have a fully developed frontal lobe. Your child doesn’t have a sophisticated set of problem-solving skills nor does s/he have effective coping strategies. You also have more experience or practice adapting to big life changes, as you’ve been on this earth longer to experience more of them. Practice makes perfect! So it’s no wonder that big life changes may be even more difficult for your child. Do you know how to help your child keep his/her “switch on” during big changes?
Help your child with the upcoming changes by giving them practice, information and tools!
Determine about what will be new and different for your child.
Some examples of skills commonly needed with change: new routines for getting out the door for school/daycare, new routines for coming home, social skills that will be needed in the new situation, communication skills, the ability to calmly transition between activities, tolerate denials, and wait for attention. It is common that your child may regress in one area of his/her life or another. Some parents report more whining/crying or aggression starts that wasn’t there before. Others report disruptions to eating, sleeping, and toilet training. These are three areas that your child ultimately has all the control of his/her body.
It’s safe to say your child doesn’t get a say in the upcoming change!
You can offer your child some control by giving meaningful and intentional choices! If you offer two options, be prepared that you will require your child to choose one. Each time you allow them to say neither, both, or suggest a third option, you are teaching them that your boundaries are bendable. Here are several way to give your child some control with choices:
1. Ask open-ended questions ONLY when available
Give your child simple choices of things that don’t matter to you in that moment, but will give your child a sense of control. Give some open-ended choices that you can and will honor! For example: “What do you want to have for snack?” or “You can choose what to wear today.” or “Who do you want to put you to bed tonight?” Avoid asking yes/no questions like “Can you…?” if “no” is not an acceptable response.
2. Offer “Forced Choices” to put boundaries on your child’s behavior
Start with simple choices during play: “Do you want to play Legos or read books?”, “Do you want the red or green marker?”, “Do you want to go first or should I”, etc. Make sure your child is choosing one of the presented choices before moving on to choices in routines.
3. Offer choices to propel your child through his/her routine
As long as you see your child choosing between presented options during play, you can add “forced choices” into routines. Here are some examples:
- “Would you like me to stay for 1 minute or 2 minutes before I leave?”
- “Are we going to read one or two more books before lights out?”
- “Do you want to sing ABC’s or wheels on the bus while we brush teeth tonight?
To end an activity:
- “Do you want one or two more turns before we clean up?”
- “Would you like to play on one or two more things before we leave the park?”
Getting ready for the day:
- “You may choose milk or water for breakfast.”
- “You may choose this red or blue shirt today.”
- “Are you going to get dressed or get your backpack ready first this morning?”
Alicia Janni, BS, BCaBA